Recent Feature Articles

Jun 2022

The Next Version

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Frequent contributor Argle (previous) is mildly famous, and not just around here. He writes:

Someone once remarked that they were jealous that I had two Wikipedia articles written about projects I created. This is about one of them.

Submit Your Vacation

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"We have an internal website that shows, among other things, the daily availability of my coworkers for the next three months to help with scheduling, especially when planning vacations," writes Alexander.

"This vacation planner data is represented as a table. An image of a table to be more precise."

Classic WTF: GHOST Busted

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We're wrapping up our vacation week with a look at something really scary. A GHOST. A spooky GHOST, not the Swedish metal band, which isn't really spooky. Original. --Remy

Some developers look at a problem and say, “Let’s solve it. With code!” Then there are other developers, who say, “This specific problem is a subset of a general class of problem, which, if we solve the general class, will automatically solve the specific class.” The best programmers know when it’s time to keep it simple, and when they really should shoot for the stars.

Chris worked for a startup run by former academics. They wanted to shoot for the stars, some black holes, and maybe, if there was budget left over, the primordial galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. They had an idea for a product which would… well, Chris had no idea what it did.

The vision was codenamed SPRIT. Walter, the wizard behind it, couldn’t explain its purpose in terms anyone else understood. The only thing he could explain was that SPIRIT needed to be implemented in the in-house language, GHOST. “It’s a joke,” Walter explained once, “It stands for ‘Generic Hybrid Script for Transactional Objects’. The acronym is out of order because GHOST is all about parallel processing. It’s funny.”

Classic WTF: Back That Thang Up

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We're still away for our summer break, skimming our inbox and horrified by all the things you're sending us. Keep doing it. Speaking of horrors, this one's about backups. You know what's about to happen… Original. -- Remy

It ain't easy being number one, especially for R.B.'s company. With €730 million in annual revenues, they're the leader in a relatively small (€1.6 billion) niche market and are constantly struggling to maintain their dominance amongst a handful of vicious competitors. Recently, an executive at the company came up with an astonishingly brilliant plan that would ensure that they stayed on top for many years to come. This plan was named The Convergence.

The Convergence was, in all seriousness, a really good idea. It represented a completely new way of doing business that relied heavily on technology and its ability to integrate the supply chain with the customer experience. It would do nothing short of revolutionizing their entire industry, leaving their competitors struggling just to stay afloat.

Classic WTF: The Source Control Shingle

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It's still a short summer break for a few more days, as always, keep those submissions filling our inbox while we're away. In the meantime, we're also into peak homebuying season. A friend of mine needed a new roof as part of her purchase. Roofs are important, as they provide vital protection for your structure. Unless that structure is your source code… Original. --Remy

The year was 1999 and the dot-com boom was going full-throttle. Companies everywhere were focused on building revolutionary applications using nothing but top-shelf hardware and state-of-the-art software tools. Developers everywhere were trying to figure out if they should play more foosball, more air hockey, or sit back down on their Aeron and write more code. Everywhere, that is, except Boise, Idaho. Or at least, Dave's small corner of it.

At Dave's company, developers worked at a solid pace, using reliable tools, for a stable industry. They were sub-sub-contractors on a giant project commissioned by the U.S. Navy to condense naval vessel documentation. Generally speaking, the complete documentation required for a modern warship-from the GPS calibration instructions to the giant 130-millimeter cannon repair guide-is measured in tons. By condensing the documentation into the electronic equivalent, they could not only save tremendous physical space, but they could make it much easier to navigate.


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It's that time of year, we're taking a brief little summer break this week, and thus reaching back into the archives for some classics. Enjoy these, and in the meantime, keep those submissions coming! For today, we have a unique way to keep track of when classes start… Original. --Remy

Working as a DBA in academia, Paul received a notice that a certain newly migrated user schema, specifically the one used by the enrollment tracking system, had swelled to 281 tables and was growing. This had struck Paul as being very strange since the tracking system wasn't all that complicated.

When a student is registering for a class, and want to know if there's room left, they need two pieces of information - the Course ID and the Semester Number.


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Guillaume's company frequently uses consultants. It's a pretty standard setup: Guillaume's employer has many multi-year projects in flight, all of which are layered atop an existing ecosystem of in-house "do everything" applications, each full of their own WTFs.

Because of the complexity, Guillaume's team has a pretty strict code review policy. Someone new to the team will write a merge request, a senior developer will coldly review it and provide huge amounts of comments. By the end of the process, the senior team member may have provided most of the code and architecture via those code review comments, and the junior member is left to just follow the instructions.